Lead has been used in dishware production for centuries. Used as the substance to make the dishware more durable and amp up the color in glazes, lead has been a vital part in creating the items that we use on a daily basis. But how safe is lead for us?
In 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its first set of rules and limitations surrounding lead in dinnerware. Under its law, dishware couldn’t leach more than 3 micrograms of lead per milliliter of solution ( 3 ug/mL). According to the FDA ruling, ceramic dinnerware that leached lead above those levels would need to be labeled as “Not for Food Use” or must contain holes in the surface that made them unsuitable for food use.
This law was updated again in 1993 to dictate that ceramic cups and mugs couldn’t contain more than 0.5 micrograms of lead per millimeter of solution. Pitchers can’t contain more than 0.5 ug/mL either. In California, however, even more strict laws exist. Under Proposition 65, labels warning that a product contains compounds that may cause birth defects, or reproductive harm are now required on many household items sold in California, including ceramic dinnerware.
Under Proposition 65, dinnerware may not leach more than 0.226 parts per million of lead and ceramic mugs and cups should contain less than 0.1 ppm. The only way around this law is if labels warn consumers that the item may post a health threat.
Here’s where it gets confusing: Dinnerware that leaches less than 0.226 parts per million of lead is classified as “lead safe”, leading consumers to believe that they run no risk of lead exposure or contamination.
The risks of lead exposure
So you may be wondering, “That seems like a small amount of lead, how harmful could lead exposure be?”
According the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, both children and adults are susceptible to health effects from lead exposure, although typical exposure pathways and effects can be somewhat different.
In the United States each year, it’s estimated that 535,000 children ages one to five experience blood lead levels (BLLs) that are at or above 5 ug/dL. Children, specifically, are the most vulnerable to lead exposure and poisoning. The reason for this is because children absorb four to five times as much as adults from any given source. Not to mention, children’s innate curiosity often leads them to put lead-based products in their mouth or even ingest them. In fact, the FDA reports that children can absorb up to 30 to 75% of lead reaching the digestive tract. Effects can include brain and nervous system development and increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. In pregnant women, exposure can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations.
At the highest level of lead exposure, lead can attack the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions or even death.
The primary causes of lead exposure? Lead exposure can come from two primary avenues:
- Inhalation of lead particles from burning materials containing lead
- Ingestion of lead-contaminated dust, water (from leaded pipes) and food (from lead-glazed or lead-soldered containers)
Once lead enters the body, it is dispersed throughout the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. The body will even store lead in the teeth and bones, where it will collect over time. When lead is stored in the bones, it can be mobilized into the blood during pregnancy, as the body seeks to transport more nutrients to the baby.
Why lead safe dishes are a smart choice
Lead is a “probable carcinogen”, which means that it has been linked to cancer in certain situations. While studies are still being performed on the overall risks and effects of lead exposure in small quantities, it’s important to the health and safety of your and your family that you decrease your exposure to lead as much as possible.
If you have dishes containing even a small trace of lead (those marked as “lead safe”), the lead can leach into your body if your plate contains food with an acidic base, if you microwave your food or you put the dishes into the dishwasher.
At Emerson Creek Pottery, our dishes are lead safe. Plus, our dishes are completely microwave safe, chip resistant and dishwasher safe—something that lead safe dishes technically can’t advertise due to the leaching that can take place.
Completely eliminating lead and choosing a 100% non-toxic lifestyle is attainable, but it will take a lot of time and investment on your part. Lead can be found in paint, dust, soil, drinking water, cosmetics, children’s jewelry, children’s toys, imported candies, some inks and more. Some of those are completely out of your control, like lead found in drinking water, soil or dust. However, you can control the lead that is or isn’t found in your ceramic dinnerware. Choose dinnerware that is marked as lead safe, in an effort to decrease the amount of lead exposure for your children and the rest of your family.
At Emerson Creek Pottery, we place a high value on sustainable practices and we want to equip you with lead safe dishes that are safe for your family. All products are completely handmade and hand painted in our studio in Bedford, Virginia, by craftsmen that are known and trusted in the ceramic community. Shop our collection of microwave safe, dishwasher safe, lead safe ceramic dinnerware that’s 100% made in the United States.